Born in New Jersey and educated at Rutgers and Binghamton, with post-doctoral fellowships at Berkeley and Brown, Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the author of seven books and the editor of three: Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the "Forgotten Man" (North Carolina, 1983; 25th anniversary edition, 2008); The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941 (Times Books/Random House, 1984, 1993; 25th anniversary edition, 2009); The End of the Conservative Era: Liberalism After Reagan (Arbor House, 1987); Mario Cuomo: A Biography (Scribners, 1988); What's Left?: A New Democratic Vision for America (Adams, 1996); The Great Depression: A History in Documents, (Oxford University Press, 2000); Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History (McGraw-Hill, 2001, paper, 2002), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (CQ Press, 2002), the two-volume Encyclopedia of the Great Depression (Macmillan Reference, 2004), and Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America (Crown, 2008). His first two books on the Depression era have become classics in the field, acclaimed by historians and general readers alike. The Great Depression has been called “the best one-volume overview of the Great Depression.” Two of his books have been named among the “Notable Books of the Year” by the New York Times Book Review, and three have been listed among the Editor’s Choice “Bear in Mind” books in that publication.
In 2010, McElvaine won the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. In 2017 he was presented with the B.L.C. Wailes Award for national distinction in the field of history. His articles and opinion pieces appear frequently in such publications as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times Book Review, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Politico, and Newsweek. More than 100 of his articles have been published in major national publications. He has been a guest on more than 100 television and radio programs, including NBC’s Today, ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and BBC television and radio. He blogs on the HuffPost.
Professor McElvaine has served as historical consultant for several television programs, including the seven-episode PBS series The Great Depression. He has received many awards for his teaching, including a silver medal in the national Professor of the Year program of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
McElvaine spent more than a decade developing a new expertise in several fields, including anthropology, human evolution, ancient history, and women's history, in order to put himself in a position to offer a reinterpretation of the significance of sex in the unfolding of human history, which he presented in his book Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes and the Course of History. He has lectured to enthusiastic audiences around the United States and in Russia, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, and India on his ideas about the central influence on human history of various misconceptions and metaphors about the sexes that form the basis of Eve’s Seed. The book has received glowing comments from both general readers and academics, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly. His ideas were also featured in an article in the Arts & Ideas section of the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times Book Review named Eve’s Seed one of the “Best Books of 2001.” A Chinese edition of the book was published in 2004.
He is currently completing three new books: What It Feels Like… (a novel about a male college student who awakens one morning to find that he has somehow turned into a woman); "Fuck You!" – A Brief History of Misogyny, from "Prehistory" to Trump, and The Times They Were A-Changin’ – 1964, the Year "The Sixties" Began.
Among his interests beyond writing and teaching are progressive politics, travel (he regularly leads trips to Vietnam and Cuba, as well as to other destinations on a one-time basis), feminism, music, sports, and photography.